Combine the ingenuity of a 'gadgeteer' with the universal affection of an American male boy or man for the now nearly-vanished sight and sound of a puffing steam engine . . . and you have an individual whose hobby delights not only himself, but his friends and neighbors as 5 they witness it in action.
So it's no wonder that the farm home of Roger Zabel is well back from the county highway between Western and Swanton, many people have found their way along the lane to see his steam engines perform.
The way to the Zabel farm is marked at the end of the lane in a unique fashion a ' Case. steam engine.
As Zabel finds time between farming operations of 320 acres, and has his son, Floyd, 1961 graduate of Western high school, to assist him, he 'fires up' another steam engine at the farm, and makes use of a sawmill to turn native logs into useable lumber.
The engine is a Minneapolis, which Zabel has put in top operating condition. The staccato note of its exhaust tokens sharp adjustment of the values, and the power it develops, on the go or off the pulley, further proves the ability of the veteran engine.
The pulling power was demonstrated for a Journal reporter and other visitors to the farm on a recent Saturday. With a long cable looped around a large limb of a tree, the engine simply tore the 18- to 24-inch limb away from the trunk, then dragged it to the side of the sawmill table.
Zabel then gave the engine a new role 'belting up' to the sawmill. With a wire from the throttle to the saw-table giving him control of the engine, he sliced the red elm log into useful timbers.
The engine is 20 horsepower, with 60 on the belt. It was bought new in 1925 at Lincoln by a Humboldt vicinity thresherman. In the late 1930's it was bought by Mr. Mc Courtney of Table Rock, a lover of steam power, - to save it from being cut up for scrap.
In the late 1960's its owner became C. H. Etschison of Savannah, Mo., who aimed to restore it. When he abandoned the idea, Zabel bought it and trucked it back to his farm.
He estimates' that he has spent about $1,000 for materials and labor in restoring it.
Zabel provided a unique attraction at the Saline county fair with the Minneapolis and a grain separator last summer. Short sessions of small-grain threshing at intervals during the day each time drew a large crowd of spectators.
He hopes that arrangements might be made for a similar exhibition at the Jefferson county fair; has offered to appear with the rig for actual expenses.
Another 'steamer', at the Zabel farm, a Reeves engine, appeared in a parade at Wilber several years ago, under its own power.
When sawing with the engine, Zabel finds a ready supply of fuel in the rough and irregular slabs as the logs are 'squared off.'
That is considerably less trouble in keeping up steam than was recalled at the recent exhibition by one of the spectators.
'I still remember the half day when I had to keep steam up by feeding straw into the firebox,' reminisced Rev. E.C Moore of Fairbury.
Zabel doesn't let this hobby interfere with the religious life of himself and his family. Only illness prevents the entire family's presence at Sunday school and church.
Mrs., Zabel is secretary of children's work in' the Western Methodist church, and he is Sunday school superintendent.